A sit-down with Canada's newest bass fishing legend
BASS Elite angler and Kenora, Ontario, Canada native Jeff “Gussy” Gustafson won the 2023 Academy Sports + Outdoors Bassmaster Classic presented by Toyota on the Tennessee River. Capturing the wire-to-wire win was a monumental achievement but for Canadian bass fishing fans, Gustafson brought the title home. Only a handful of Canadians have qualified to fish the Classic since its inception in 1970 but none have won. For Canadians and all international fans, this victory reignited their dream of stardom. I spoke with Jeff and got a chance to relive Classic week, tap into his mindset for the Classic and his focus on the rest of the 2023 Elite season.
Hi Jeff. Thanks for taking time for IBASSIN.com. Congratulations of course and wow! How crazy has it been?
Thanks Luigi for giving me a call. I just finished another interview 8-minutes ago. I still cannot believe it. I haven’t even got to my text messages or social media feeds. It’s been that busy. It can be overwhelming but I am so glad and I’ve gotten so many text messages from special people. It’s been really great.
It must be such a cool feeling.
I’m looking at the trophy right now. The names on it are unreal. I’m looking at Guido and Dion’s names here. They came to the KBI (Kenora Bass International, a huge tournament in Gussy’s hometown) in 1993 and I met them. They’re such legends. They finished 2nd and it was a big deal for them to come.
I did fish when Guido was still with FLW when I first started out but he was much older then. I did become friends with Dion. I spoke to Dion and mentioned the KBI and Dion told me it was the funnest trip he and his dad Guido ever had together. That’s special.
Yeah, there’s Brauer’s name and Ken Cook on the trophy. It’s amazing.
During the weigh- in, you explained that the driver back to the arena on Championship Sunday was horrible. Waiting backstage, did you get a feeling that you didn’t blow it? Or were you kept in isolation?
The ride back was horrible. I didn’t give myself a 10% chance. Someone always has a record day and wins. It was my camera man who told me I was close. I didn’t want to lose by 4oz! I would rather it was 4-pounds. I knew I would be just over 42 pounds. While I was sitting in the tunnel, waiting to weigh-in, I knew I was going to win when I heard Dave announce that Canterbury didn’t have 42.
I’d like to focus more on the mindset of your mental approach going into the 2023 Classic. Many said that the timing of the Classic, being later than your previous win, the warmer weather and the added fishing pressure on the smallmouth made the gamble to fish for them in the Classic too risky. Your thoughts.
The Classic isn’t a regular Elite 4-day event. It's about fishing to win. I don’t fish that way. I try to get my 10-grand (the minimum payout for finishing in the Top 50) and that is a win for me. Early in my career, I would fish and practice just to get my cheque. Here, I fished to win. I knew I’d have to take my chance at a win. It happens so infrequently that you just have to take it.
Were there any tell-tale signs that you were onto the correct pattern during practice?
I knew I was smallmouth fishing. I do wish I did things differently. There were a lot of fish in that canal (a narrowing of the river that separates Tellico with Fort Loudoun) but the fishing pressure was intense. On the second day of practice, there was a big local tournament using the ramp right in the canal. I just thought, Oh Boy! It’s not possible to win here. I originally thought I would just learn the canal and find all the sweet spots but there was too much pressure there. I did a half day of practice for largemouth and that wasn’t great but it helped me confirm that I needed to stay with smallmouth.
I went looking for them in Tellico and the whole bottom came alive when I started fishing. I could’ve gotten 20lbs in 5-minutes. I really wanted to fish the next day, like a regular Elite tournament. I would have smoked them if we were fishing the next day.
On Championship Sunday, when you were struggling, were you aware that thousands of anglers who were watching on BASS Live were yelling, change baits! Explain what happened on Sunday.
I did have a drop shot and a ned rig but I felt the fish knew I was there and that’s what made them difficult to catch. It didn’t matter if I changed baits, I was looking for new fish. If I found new bass, they would come up to the bait right away.
I couldn’t tell you how many bass on Championship Sunday came up and nudged or swiped at my bait. Every 10 minutes, a bass was coming up on my bait. I was always around fish. After the weigh-in a friend told me I should have tried a hair jig and I’m not sure why I didn’t. I have that much confidence in moping.
Dave Mercer, always plays up the “nice guy” persona but do you think that played out in your favour as many Elite anglers openly said they were not going to catch “your fish”.
Sure. I don’t run up on guys. I’ve fished my whole career that way. It’s just not how I fish. I’m sure it worked in my favour. To win, you have to do something different and a bit of something you can do well. Catching deep smallmouth is something I’m good at. I’ve done it all my life.
An outdoor writer colleague of mine wanted to know if you’d be cool with changing the name from Moping to the Gussy Rig?
No! Ron Linder was the guy who made up the term moping, so that’s its name. That’s the name I’ll always call it.
Having won the Classic, you’ve qualified for next year’s Classic. Will that change your approach to the rest of the Elite season?
It’s the greatest perk. I’m in! Everyday on the Elites is stressful and now I’m stress free. I will fish the way I want to and that means I’ll be moping for much of the season. Other than the Sabine River, I expect to catch a lot of bass with it.
Last year I caught most of my bass moping. On the St. Lawrence in practice, I was out in deeper water and the screen was full of bass. My first cast one way I got a 5-pounder. The next cast was the other way and I got over 4 and a half. The problem was that the wind was really strong during practice and I wasn’t able to expand that pattern.
I stay with Jason Christie and I’ll pick his brain on what I should expect being the Classic Champ.
You don’t room with the Johnstons, Matt Robertson and the rest of the Frat Boys?
No. My wife travels with me and living with those guys wasn’t ideal for both of us. By the end of a tournament, the place is destroyed…no one cleans up. She’s good friends with Christie's girlfriend, so it's a better arrangement for us.
Gussy, thanks for your time and I want to wish you the very best being the Classic Champion and hope the rest of the year goes well.
Thanks Luigi. It’s really great talking to you.